My partner and I uncovered a video I had gotten while in a support group about 10 years ago – a collection of trans-related TV programs from the late 90s / early 2000s. We’ve been spacing it out, watching some of it each weekend.
The first weekend, we watched The Discovery Channel’s “Changing Sexes.” It was appalling.
Last weekend, we watched an Oprah show from 2004 about transgender children. Surprisingly, it was so well done that it felt relevant and spot on, for children today, more than 10 years later. Oprah made some blunders in terminology and wording (“transgenders,” “When you grow up, what? You want to officially have an operation?” “Children who suffer from gender confusion”), but other than that, the tone was surprisingly respectful.
The show focused on 3 families:
Kaden, an 11 year old FTM trans-person, and his mom.
Dylan, a 5 year old child who strongly feels he is a girl, and his parents.
Hal, a 9 year old FTM trans-person, and his parents.
Kaden’s story focused on how horrific it was to start puberty, his social transition, and how hard it’s been for his mom, although she is supportive. His mom talked about him being able to take further steps, (hormones and surgery), when he’s 18. I found this video and article on Huffington Post – a Where Are They Now from 2013, where Kaden is 20. He ended up getting to start testosterone at age 14 and get top surgery at 16. He seems happy.
Dylan’s story focused on the tension between the parents and between Dylan and his dad. His mom is fine with his son’s preferences and who he might turn out to be. She will buy him dolls and engage in discussions about how he feels he is a girl. His dad does not approve, and there is already a big rift in his relationship with his son. The parents fight about it. The dad stated, “I discipline him.” Things seemed skewed in a way in which the dad was demonized. Dylan was not on the show, but he was shown backstage, happily coloring.
Next, a gender therapist talked about the best practices in how to handle a child going through this. To just be there for the child and love them no matter what. And it might be a phase; it might not – and that’s OK. She claimed that about 1/3 of children grow out of it, 1/3 grow up to be gay, and 1/3 grow up to be trans. I wonder if these statistics hold up?
Hal’s story focused on how open and accepting his parents were, after he verbalized suicidal ideation at 6 years old. His parents claimed that Hal can make his own choices about his path, when he is ready. They talked about difficult moments, and Hal was kind of put on the spot. At 9 years old, I think he was too young to be on the show, talking about his story. He was crying through it. That was hard to watch.
Lastly, a MTF trans-adult came on the air to talk about her life path and how much easier it could have been if she had been able to transition at a younger age. Instead, her doctors were suggesting a lobotomy, and her family was seriously considering it. Luckily they didn’t go through with it, and she grew up as male, had a family (is now divorced but it seems amicable) and is living more authentically now.
This show touched ever so briefly on heavy issues, but shied away each time. Hate crimes were brought up. Homelessness. Suicide rates. Racism. Class issues amongst the families could have been explored. Oprah tends to focus on the positives, which is definitely doing a disservice. But in terms of talking about what kids need, she directed the conversations in the right directions.
The show closed with Dylan’s dad proclaiming that he is now going to go buy his son some dolls when he leaves. When Oprah asked why, he said, “Life is more important.”
Stay tuned for part 3: A&E The Transgender Revolution from 1998.